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Thursday rain means LeMans grid locked in
As expected, Thursday’s rain dampened the second night of practice and qualifying for the 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So the qualifying times from Wednesday night will set the grid for Saturday’s green flag of the world’s most famous auto race, at least throughout most of the field. Many teams, including those from the American Le Mans Series, set out Thursday night to refine their wet race setup as more rain loomed in the forecast for the weekend.

Peugeot will start from pole position as Stephane Sarrazin’s time of 3:26.344 stood after the quickest time of any car Thursday was nearly 35 seconds slower. That left Allan McNish and Audi on the outside front row as the German marque seeks its second straight Le Mans win with diesel power.

In addition, Adrian Fernandez will start from the point in LMP2 for Barazi Epsilon and the factory Zytek in the Mexican star’s first trip to Le Mans.

McNish turned in the quickest time Thursday at 4:01.257 late in the day’s second session. The track remained wet throughout, which kept the times up. Only three cars were in the 4:01 range: McNish, Sebastien Bourdais and Lucas Luhr in the third of the Audis.

“In terms of looking at the final results, we appear stronger,” McNish said. “Wet or dry, both the Peugeots and Audis are very close. In the dry the Pescarolos should be there as well. It should be fantastic.”

The wet conditions Thursday also meant Fernandez’s 3:44.158 pole time from Wednesday held up easily.

“We were just driving and that’s how we did,” Fernandez said. “We weren’t trying to get the fastest lap. The car was working well and the time was there. It’s exciting. This is an incredibly fantastic place. We have great teammates that have helped us get up to speed.”

The rain actually proved a benefit as Fernandez saw extensive time in the rain. That allowed the crew to test not just the wet setup but also the tires as well. It’s all about comfort, Fernandez said, and that likely will come in handy if it’s a soggy Saturday and Sunday.

With the third and fifth positions secured in GT1, Corvette Racing’s two factory Corvette C6.Rs spent the evening also running through a battery of tests. Road Racing Group Manager Steve Wesoloski pointed to a variety of rain tires and tire pressures to generate mechanical grip in the rain. The drivers also tested the cars’ defogging system as part of the air conditioning package and finding the right lines to take and determining braking points.

“We are checking the car with all three drivers, making sure that it’s OK to run in the wet, and that there is no water getting in,” Corvette’s Jan Magnussen said. “The visibility is hard when you are running with other people. It's good that I was here in 2001 when it was very wet. If it's wet like this for the race, the results will depend more on who avoids mistakes and less on the racing.”

The Risi Competizione Ferraris both turned a small number of laps as the two cars were fitted with their race engines and packages. The entry of Mika Salo, Jaime Melo and Johnny Mowlem did 14 laps while the sister car of Nic Jonsson, Tracy Krohn and Colin Braun completed just six. The lead car will start third in GT2 with the other sixth.

Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Porsche did not record a timed lap as Johannes van Overbeek did an out lap then an in lap before calling it a night. Like the Risi cars, the Lizard entry was fitted with its race setup including a new engine, gearbox and brakes. Jörg Bergmeister, Seth Neiman and Johannes van Overbeek will start fourth in class.

The 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. ET) on Saturday, June 16 from the Circuit de la Sarthe. SPEED will provide 17.5 hours of coverage in North America starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on June 16. MotorsTV will air week-long coverage throughout Europe. Live coverage can be found on Radio Le Mans through americanlemans.com.

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